Ours isn't really a system at all
People tell Margaret Eaton, the National CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Association, their mental health stories and for that she is very grateful. But there is a common theme to these stories that has emerged during the pandemic that is troubling: the high cost and the difficulty, and sometimes the impossibility, of getting mental health care.
“I’ve heard heartbreaking stories from parents of teenagers with eating disorders who are on long waiting lists for therapy. One woman told me how hard it is just trying to make sure they can keep their family member alive when all they want to do is end their life,” she said
Unfortunately, it is not uncommon in Canada to hear about someone who has gone to a hospital emergency room with thoughts of suicide, only to be sent home soon after with no plan. Many people with an addiction or substance use disorder who seek help soon discover they can’t afford the programs on offer.
In any year, the mental health needs of 1.6 million Canadians don’t get taken care of. And the pandemic has only made it worse, with increases in suicidal ideation, opioid and substance use and feelings of anxiety.
“Our so-called mental health care system isn’t really a system at all—it’s a patchwork of private, hospital and community care that is inadequate for our growing mental health care needs,” says Margaret. “Other G7 countries provide free mental health care as part of their public coverage, and we can too.”
The pandemic has shown us that we can take extraordinary measures to support people in Canada.
Margaret and CMHA are calling for a system where mental health is always covered and where cost is never a barrier to care no matter where you live, no matter who you are.
“Let’s make sure that all people in Canada have access to free, high-quality, easily available mental health care.”
“The mental health system has to get bigger. If we’re ever going to slow this epidemic of suicide, we need more resources, more tools, more psychiatrists, we need more nurses. I had counselling until the funding dried up and the program disappeared. It’s all about the money.”
“They say one in five of us have a mental illness. So why isn’t it being treated as a priority? If you break your arm, you just go to the Emergency, get your X ray, get your cast, get your therapy, and there you are. I think mental health should be a basic right.”
“I don’t care whether it’s provincial or federal, the person should be taken care of. There’s no reason we couldn’t find a way to provide better mental health services to every Canadian citizen, no matter where we live.”